Tag, You’re It!

The internet marketing research firm comScore, Inc. provides periodic reports illustrating website metrics including tangibles like traffic and more subjective insights like social media and advertising effectiveness and user engagement. In the company’s latest review, Tagged.com was ‘tagged’ ahead of giants Facebook and Twitter as the United States’ most engaging social network. Considering most people likely haven’t even heard of it, this is an extraordinary achievement.

The numbers are fairly surprising and in cases, downright impressive. Tagged users visit the site only half as frequently as Facebook users, but spend more minutes on the network on average. Tagged was the only social media site to score in the top two spots for both duration and number of visits.

But what exactly is Tagged.com? The term social discovery has been adopted by the site’s founders to describe a process of making new social connections similar to how LinkedIn users network professionally. In its current state, Tagged is intended to coexist, not compete, with Facebook. So far, attempts at prying market share away from the ubiquitous ‘Social Network’ have proven fruitless, as in the case of Google+.

The network’s distinguishing feature is the ability to deliberately find new people to connect with. Unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, which rely heavily upon existing connections to expand one’s network, Tagged encourages reaching out and responding to strangers who live in the same area or share common interests and activities. The allure of easily finding new friends seems to be effective; the comScore review reported upwards of 330 million members generating an average of 2.4 million new matches every day.

Joining yet another social network is a tall request for many devoted Facebook and Twitter users. It is early to determine whether Tagged will ultimately fit into the grand scheme of social media, but because the nature of the site certainly offers the early adopter a head start, it may continue to grow exponentially. Given its impressive metrics, there is little reason to doubt this new entrant into the race.

3 Clever Social Campaigns

Social media has arguably been the single largest trend in marketing over the course of the past few years. As more and more businesses shift their strategies and increase marketing spend on these social platforms, it is becoming harder to make a brand message stand out. Social is unique in that marketing to these networks is not about who can be the loudest. Instead, success is dependent on how well a brand creatively draws attention to how it fulfills a group’s wants and needs.

There are plenty of examples of failed attempts at capitalizing on the unique opportunities social media offers. These cases share a common problem of failing to understand how a message will be consumed, or acting with disregard for how disastrous a misstep can be.

On the other side of the coin, there are a several unique social media campaigns that exemplify the ability of social media networks to deliver a clear message organically across a large captive audience. Here are a few examples:

– Healthy Choice understood that its female customer base was becoming increasingly social, and responded well to coupons when making purchase decisions. The company took this information and introduced a “growing” campaign that offered a printable coupon that increased in value as its Facebook page garnered more likes. In a few weeks’ time, the fan page went from 7,000 to over 60,000 likes, and customers responded well, with more than 30,000 of the new fans subscribing to the company’s newsletter.

– When Old Spice introduced its new humor-injected advertising campaign in 2010, the ‘Old Spice Guy’ quickly became a viral sensation, and the main advertisement was so well made, it actually won an Emmy.  The company took notice, and signed up their popular actor to create more than 180 YouTube videos responding to tweets and blog posts that mentioned the ads. The entire campaign created a lasting image that the brand’s target demographic still shares online over social networks today.

– With Pinterest’s rise to popularity in 2012, Honda is hammering home it’s multi-platform ‘Leap List’ campaign by crossing over into the social visual network and encouraging users to take a ‘Pintermission’ (a 24 hour break from Pinterest) and attempt to visit, buy, and experience places and things they have pinned. They are even paying fans of the brand to help accomplish their goals. Most of Honda’s pins link across different networks back to the campaign, and drive home the message of adventure that has been wildly popular since its launch during the Super Bowl.

Social media is ultimately not about the product or service being marketed, but the relationship between marketer and consumer. Communication on social networks is a two-way street; brands have a chance to be relatable to their audience, and customers unwittingly increase awareness and loyalties. Creating strong relationships turns customers into brand ambassadors more powerful than advertisements.

Sharing A Social Snapshot

Two months after Facebook announced the acquisition of the mobile photo editing and sharing app Instagram for $1B in cash, the social media giant has become the favorite subject of scrutiny in the financial media. The 10-figure purchase was made in anticipation of an IPO on the NASDAQ; part of a feverish run up to a landmark valuation that elevated Facebook above long-standing power brands like McDonalds and the New York Times as it went public. After a disastrous first two weeks that has seen the company’s shares fall 30% in value, investors and market regulators are looking for answers.

Why anyone believed that buying stock in a company that is fundamentally not interested in generating revenue is a relative mystery. Combine that problem with the company’s ongoing lawsuits with Yahoo! over patents, its FTC privacy issues, drastically increased competition in the marketplace, and the still relative youth of social media as a viable business proposition, and several more questions arise.

In advance of the IPO, the immense valuation of Facebook was well known by the public to have been based solely on potential, rather than tangible assets – its nearly one billion users worldwide would constitute the single largest captive audience for any message on the planet. However, the inability of Facebook to convert this opportunity into revenue is equating to a disaster on Wall Street and in the company’s new Menlo Park, CA headquarters, severely testing the breaking point of the social bubble.

The winner of this whole debacle is Instagram. Following the blueprint of what social can really achieve, the makers of the app grew a userbase of 30 million people with an innovative product and ultimately sailed away from the treacherous waters with a billion dollars in cash. Facebook, meanwhile, is drowning.

In reality, Facebook is worth more than just money. More accurately, Facebook’s value transcends what any amount of marketing or advertising money can buy; the network is deeply entangled in the everyday lives of a majority of Americans, serving as a primary vehicle for their social interactions. Even if the company’s stock continues to fall through the floor, general users will be largely unaffected, carrying on their status updates, photo sharing, and social gaming. Perhaps the example that is being made of social media as a poor investment will change the game for businesses and ultimately return the website to those who make it valuable: the users.

Retweet to Eat

**From the pages of Junction’s notebook: Read about the experiences, perspectives, and ideas of Junction team members.

Scrolling through my Twitter timeline, one particular tweet caught my eye. “Want to dine with us on our opening weekend? RT this w/ your email addy.”

Within the rise of the ‘new’ food industry, restaurant openings from locally or nationally famous chefs are highly anticipated. The phone lines become jammed with foodies and socialistas seeking reservations for the hottest new table in town. As is often the case, the new hotspot was to open for Saturday and Sunday evening for a select group of diners prior to the reservation system opening the restaurant to the hungry public on Monday. However, the lucky few were not food critics or pro athletes, not even friends or family to the chef or management; they were simply Twitter followers.

Originally planning to wait until the hordes died down and initial reviews came back positive, I found myself suddenly compelled to participate in the experiment when the tweet showed up in my feed. I followed the directions, retweeting and providing an email address for contact. Two days later, nearly having forgotten about the whole thing, I received an email from the sommelier with good news.

Working through the kinks of this highly unusual process, we sent 5 emails in total back and forth – hardly efficient – but I was ultimately rewarded with a phone call from the front desk confirming my reservation.

After a spectacular and innovative meal with a true VIP experience, I sat at my table incredulous at the realization that I had booked the exciting dinner directly through a social media outlet. I had been rewarded dearly for being a loyal follower. Instantly, I was galvanized as a dedicated customer by the thought.

Of course, the ‘Twitter Reservation System’ isn’t en route to overtake the likes of OpenTable or old fashioned phone calls for reservations any time soon, but this particular experiment hooked me in and ultimately electrified me, proving the power of social media done right.

The Social Clearinghouse

Infographics have become an increasingly prevalent trend, offering a snapshot of data relevant to consumer behaviors and consumption patterns. As social media platforms begin to peak with record breaking valuations, infographics help illustrate the data in way that marketers can digest. Marketers who have traditionally used gut instinct to determine marketing spend are now relying on data largely driven by technology and social oriented platforms.

Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, SocialCam, You Tube, and even dating sites like Match.com or eHarmony have become a clearinghouse for big data encompassing demographics, preferences, consumption behaviors, etc. Marketers can leverage this user intelligence to hone strategies and develop future approaches. Data illustrating the wants, needs, and expectations of users/consumers enable marketers to create purposeful, impactful, and even contextual messaging to inform purchase decisions.

The potential pitfall associated with so-called “big data,” for marketers, is assuming that the collection platform is the right marketing vehicle to reach those same consumers. Consumer preferences, behaviors, or demographic information collected from one social platform may not be the best mode for reaching the consumer base. Facebook, with over 900 million users, is one of the largest data collection platforms in the marketplace, but as exemplified by GM’s recent announcement of its withdrawal from the social network , it isn’t always the best platform for advertising.

As technology continues to revolutionize how data is collected and presented, marketers must remember that the real value lies in how information can be digested within context to better target a consumer base. When trends change and social is gone, marketers who understand the value of data will be in the driver’s seat.

Social Media: Boom to Bust?

As Facebook reports its user base has reached 901 million users and acquires Instagram for a staggering $1 billion, industry analysts continue to debate the existence of what is being deemed the “social media bubble.” Some argue that social media is a sign of a burgeoning online community that fuels the economy. Skeptics speculate that this age of social media is reminiscent of the most recent collapse of the housing market and the not so distant .com bubble.

From the mid-90s to 2000, industrialized nations saw a dramatic increase in equity valuation due to the growth of the Internet sector. Venture capitalists pumped millions of dollars into start-up companies led by a young generation of entrepreneurs with big ideas and incomplete business models. The markets witnessed a surge in IPOs with remarkably high stock prices and then experienced devastating losses when the bubble burst.

Not so dissimilar, social media companies, most notably Facebook, are entering the market with incredible valuations. Valuations are being based on the potential buying power of these social media user bases. But is the potential of this large consumer base enough to drive sustainability and stability? News that financial advisors are cautioning clients against social media fund plays may be a sign of what is to come.

There is no question that the industry is experiencing a social media boom, but its fate will no doubt fuel speculations on both sides of the argument. What do you think?

Word Out on the Town

Reputation has always carried heavy importance for businesses across industry. Throughout the last century, customer loyalty was primarily forged through personal interactions that involved a high standard of service blended with consistency. Managing performance and generating new business was dependent on solid reputations and relationships. However, technology is the basis for a large majority of interaction between businesses and consumers. With this shift, the importance of reputation is not diminished; instead, a new standard is being set online.

The internet has accelerated the speed of consumer interactions with brands in dramatic fashion. As one might expect, reputation has become increasingly transient and incredible sensitive. A plethora of online ‘review’ sites populated by communities of customers giving feedback in real time has empowered the voices of consumers. A single bad review of a restaurant can deter other patrons, and a bit of praise can fill the reservation book. Whether from advocates or critics, the instantaneous reporting of customer experience can literally be make or break for a business.

These drastic changes have led to behavioral changes, manifested most strikingly in the form of companies touting themselves as “reputation management firms.” The anonymity that the internet allows by nature has meant that not all customer reviews or ratings are to be believed, and a small number of businesses have turned to gaming the system by eliminating negative feedback and creating fake reviews with the goal of building a strong reputation or repairing one that is damaged.

The reality is disconcerting, but the message is clear: reputation online plays an extremely important role in success within the highly competitive landscape. It is important for owners and operators to understand customer feedback, address concerns, and motivate the large audiences on review sites and in the press in order to turn negatives into positives. Utilized correctly, a robust reputation online can prove to be a massive advantage, vital to the success of any business now and in the foreseeable future.

A Prime Cut of the New Food Business

Eating is a biological necessity. Every human being must eat, but for millions of people nationwide, developments in recent years have placed an increasing emphasis on gastronomy that is healthier, more localized, more gourmet – providing something far beyond mere sustenance. As a result, massive changes in social and economic behavior surrounding this shift are helping the food industry rapidly become very big business.

Everywhere, citizens from all demographics flock to popular new restaurants, farmers’ markets, and other food-related events creating an entire culture of individuals dedicated to seeking the latest and greatest culinary art. The number of these enthusiasts and connoisseurs is staggering and constantly on the rise (the term ‘foodie’ is generally frowned upon, as it is now considered far too general to accurately describe the hundreds of different types of food-lovers) – New York Magazine recently ran a high profile article detailing the emergence of an entirely new class of young people drastically increasing spending on food. These dedicated consumers are fuelling a serious boom in new food industry businesses. New York City alone sees hundreds of high profile openings each year, most of which are highly successful, booked up to months in advance and packed with eager diners every night.

So how has the food industry capitalized on all the excitement of this emergent market? Restaurants, farmers’ markets, specialty foods stores, and more have used digital platforms to springboard to new heights. Through social networks and digital tools, these businesses have fostered the fervor of food-lovers, creating user review websites like Yelp and revolutionary platforms like OpenTable, which offers a fully integrated reservation booking experience. The two sites have even merged functionality, enabling diners to heavily interact with the food business long before and long after any actual eating takes place. Chefs are now celebrities, viewed by many in the same light as prominent athletes or actors, with dedicated ‘fans’ admiring their every move.

The democracy that digital platforms have created for the food industry is beneficial not just to businesses, but to consumers as well. The enthusiasm has led to an increase in the quality and visibility of what was traditionally ‘cheap’ cuisine, and a shift in higher-end, luxury food becoming more accessible – both ends of the spectrum have been more centralized to suit a much larger audience. Food is a common experience for all types of people, and the modern movement is touching eaters everywhere.

The ‘food revolution’ is an example of the power of a world driven by social interaction and fully connected by technology. Using the right tools and strategies, businesses in all industries can leverage commonalities among consumers to maximize awareness and monetize the human experience.